I always loved the stinkiest, weirdest foods I could get my hands on.
Despite this, I never loved sauerkraut. I actually had no idea what it was until I was about 20 years old. I was walking home from downtown Halifax and stopped at a street vendor for a jumbo sausage (yeah, I can’t believe it either). For whatever reason I topped if off with a handful of sauerkraut… and liked it! It was salty, tangy and totally delicious.
It was only recently that I became familiar with the benefits of sauerkraut and other fermented foods. I read the Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone in which she speaks highly of fermented foods and making your own pickles. I also started listening to this awesome podcast called The Holistic Health Diary and something that really stood out to me was their frequent referencing to “nutrition 2.0”. This includes making your own kombucha or kefir, sprouting, etc. to take your health to the next level. Both resources peaked my interested on fermented foods.
In the days of our ancestors, foods were fermented to extend their useful life. It was later realized that the fermentation process transformed these foods into probiotic powerhouses.
So what are fermented foods? These are foods that have been through a process called lactofermentation, in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch creating lactic acid. The process also creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics (source).
The good bacteria in fermented foods will help restore your healthy gut flora, balancing your digestive system. A clean and balanced gut will and allow for better absorption of vitamins, nutrients and minerals. Probiotics have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health (goodbye IBS!), aid digestion, improve immunity and can even lead to weight loss.
Did you know that your gut has a powerful impact on brain health, including depression and anxiety? Your gut is like your second brain. It even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin (the happy hormone) than your brain does. I guess your “gut feeling” is a real thing!
Many people were mistaking my sauerkraut for kimchi because of the bright coloured veggies. When researching homemade sauerkraut, I found many recipes included red cabbage, carrot, onion & garlic. Colours are good for you (no, seriously) so I decided to add some to my first batch. You probably expect it to look more traditional like this:
I should also mentioned that the store bought stuff is usually not equal in nutritional value to the homemade version. Anything on a grocery store shelf has likely been stored in vinegar and pasteurized; not fermented. If you do opt for store bought, make sure it says “contains live cultures” on the label and is stored in the refrigerated section. You can probably find good stuff at your local co-op, Whole Foods, or better yet, the farmer’s market where it’s still technically homemade 😉
I chose to use jars as my storage vessels since I don’t have a spot to keep a crock. If you want to use a large crock, some Google searching will help you out. Here are the simple steps I followed and what I learned from my first attempt at DIY fermentation:
Yield: 2 x 1 L Mason jars
Prep time: 30 min
Total time: 3-7+ days
- 1 head green cabbage
- 1/4 head red cabbage
- 1 large carrot
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic
- Finely chop cabbage and onion, shred carrot, and mince garlic. You may notice in the pictures I didn’t chop as “finely” as you would expect for traditional sauerkraut but it still works.
- Toss all ingredients into a very large bowl and lightly salt.
- SQUEEZE the vegetables to extract as much water as possible. For some of us this will take stepping away and returning to squeeze more after your hands rest. Add more salt and use taste as your guide throughout the process.
- When juice starts to form, press the veggies into your jars. Continue filling and pressing until the brine begins to rise just over the top of the veggies (it may not, initially). During the first 24 hours, check the sauerkraut 3 to 4 times and press it down to make sure that the water level rises to the desired level. If it still doesn’t, mix up a brine with 1 tsp of sea salt with 1 cup of water and fill the jar to JUST cover the top of the kraut.
- Cover and store in a cool, dark place for several days (3 days to >1 week depending on temperature/humidity). Don’t refrigerate as this will slow the fermentation process (see notes).
- Be sure to check the jars at least once per day after the first 24 hours to relieve any pressure that builds. Additional brine will naturally form and too much liquid will cause excess pressure. Opening it will be like dropping a bottle of soda then opening it.
- It can take anywhere from 3 days to over a week to reach the desired, tangy flavour, depending on the temperature/humidity in the storage area. Refrigerate the kraut when you think its ready and it will last for months in an air tight jar.
- If mold forms on top of the brine just remove it before eating. This is normal and will not affect the quality of your kraut.
- DO NOT use metal utensils or bowls to make/store sauerkraut because the metal will react with the salt.
- Start your next batch before this one is gone. Use a little of the first batch as a starter culture, adding it to the bowl while squeezing and salting in step 3.
- After 24 hours I checked the kraut for only the second time and the pressure gave my jars the dropped soda bottle effect. Oops!
- After 4 days the kraut was not quite to our taste preference. We are going to give it another couple of days.
Have you ever made our own fermented foods?
Do you believe in their nutritional and probiotic power?